I once read a Slavic fable about the Baba Yaga and a beautiful young woman named Vasilisa.
The essence of the story is this:
A long time ago, there lived a humble merchant, his ailing wife and their daughter, Vasilisa.
On her death bed, the mother gifted Vasilisa with a simple doll, instructing her to feed it a bit of bread each day.
In return, the doll would provide her with guidance.
She tucked the doll away in her apron pocket as her mother passed over into death.
Some time passed and the merchant married a widow.
Both she and her two daughters were fiercely envious of Vasilisa.
While her father was away, they banished her from the home, forcing her to work hard labor on the land, in hopes that her face would turn ugly from the wind and sun.
She did her work, all the while, keeping her doll hidden away.
One winter’s day, the stepmother and her two daughters plotted against Vasilisa, hoping for her demise.
They intentionally extinguished the hearth fire, requiring that she journey into the dark forest in search of the Baba Yaga.
Upon finding her, she was to request fire for the long, cold, winter nights ahead.
The Baba Yaga was a deadly witch who lived in a magical hut.
A structure that stood atop two chicken legs, its perimeter surrounded by the bones of the dead.
Feared throughout the land, she was known best as one who would devour any human who crossed her path.
The stepmother was sure that once Vasilisa found her, the Baba Yaga would eat her up.
And so Vasilisa journeyed out into the foreboding forest.
She fed her doll a bit of bread and in return, it directed her safely through the perils that lay before her.
She walked all day, until at last, she came to the hut of Baba Yaga.
As the sky began to darken, the skulls that sat upon the fence made of bone, began to glow.
Their light illuminating the forest.
The young girl was terribly afraid, but her doll reassured her and encouraged her to enter the magical home.
She knocked on the door and the fearsome Baba Yaga appeared before her.
Vasilisa bravely asked the witch for light for her family’s hearth fire; in which the Yaga replied that she knew of her stepmother.
If the girl stayed and worked well, she would give her fire.
If not, she would eat her for supper.
Inside the hut, the Baba Yaga ordered Vasilisa to complete several impossible tasks.
She must separate seed by seed, a mountain of mildewed corn kernels from dried ones.
She must sift through an immense pile of poppy seeds, separating the seeds from dirt.
She must prepare the Yaga supper, and clean her magical hut.
After instruction, the witch left the girl to do her work.
Vasilisa fed her doll a crust of bread and asked it for guidance.
The doll told her to lay down and rest after her long journey through the forest.
Upon daybreak, when the girl awoke, all tasks had been completed by her doll, aside from the preparation of supper, which she completed before the Baba Yaga’s return that evening.
When the witch arrived back at the hut that night, she was amazed to find that all of the tasks had been finished.
She asked the girl how she managed, in which Vasilisa replied that she had received a blessing from her mother.
Taken aback, the witch exclaimed that she did not want any blessings in her hut!
Keeping true to her word, she handed Vasilisa a skull with a flame burning bright inside and sent her away.
She turned and ran through the forest, following the twists and turns in the trail.
The sun hung heavy and low in the sky and soon, the trees began to thin.
She had made it out of the dangerous forest.
As she approached her home, the skull began to burn brighter and brighter.
Flames flickering out of the eyes, nose and open mouth.
The stepmother and sisters saw the light coming closer from the wood and as soon as they realized it was Vasilisa, they ordered her to put the flame into the hearth fire.
That night, as the envious women stared into the flame, it burned them up and by morning they were reduced to mere ashes.
This fable is about many things, but what I want to focus on, is the importance of reclaiming your own personal power.
The symbol of that power in the story, being the hearth fire.
Vasilisa is put into a position where she has her power stripped from her by her stepmother and sisters.
She is removed from her home, her sanctuary and her fire is doused by those who would do her harm.
Ultimately she’s required to go through difficult and harrowing experiences, at the hand of another.
This is something that I see again and again, in my line of work and also something that I have experienced myself.
People who have faced unimaginable things.
Things that have left us feeling broken and traumatized.